What Does Amazon's Purchase of Whole Foods Mean for Houston?

The Philistines had David vs. Goliath. The Japanese had Mothra vs. Godzilla. And Americans in the 21st century will obviously have Amazon vs. Walmart. Yes, the fight to bring drone-delivered quinoa to your guard-protected gated community while the peasants in the drought-wasteland beyond survive off of years of old swimming-pool water and the occasional sand worm seems nigh. That's because Amazon, online retail giant and plotter of world marketplace domination, has just purchased Whole Foods.

Like an Ugg-booted lottery winner at a Ski-Doo dealership, Amazon threw down an "all-cash transaction" valued at approximately $13.7 billion in the deal. Shareholders must still approve the purchase, but it's expected to be in the bag by the end of 2017. Meanwhile Walmart, Target, Costco and Kroger stock reportedly took a tumble with the announcement.

“Millions of people love Whole Foods Market because they offer the best natural and organic foods, and they make it fun to eat healthy,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO and certainly not a droid, announced via press release. “Whole Foods Market has been satisfying, delighting and nourishing customers for nearly four decades – they’re doing an amazing job and we want that to continue.”

With that in mind, John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO, will remain on and the headquarters will stay in Austin.

In a letter to its customers, Whole Foods promised:

Amazon is an innovative company and we are excited about our partnership. We believe it presents an incredible opportunity to take Whole Foods Market’s mission and purpose to new levels and will create significant value for our stakeholders – including you, our most loyal customers.

We want to assure you that Amazon shares Whole Foods Market’s deep commitment to quality and customer service. We will continue to operate our stores and deliver the highest quality, delicious natural and organic products that you’ve come to love and trust from Whole Foods Market.

But this all raises the question: What's next for Whole Foods, especially here in Houston, where Amazon is already planning to add 2,500 jobs at a new distribution compound in the Pinto Business Park at I-45 and Beltway 8? It's difficult to tell the direction this merger will take Whole Foods. It's sort of like the monster in the hands of Dr. Frankenstein now.

Foods Market for humanoids.
Foods Market for humanoids.
Photo by Houston Press

A contact at Whole Foods’ corporate office in Austin tells me he's been in meetings all day about the merger, but has no further comment. A call to the Waugh Street location left me with a manager who politely said, "I can't provide that," when asked his opinion on the merger, naturally, but directed me to the deep, dark abyss that is surely media@wholefoods.com.

One thing is certain. Amazon has been scrutinized repeatedly, by The New York Times, Bloomberg, Vanity Fair and more, for its alleged cutthroat working environment and emphasis on shaming and devaluing workers. It's no secret that the publishing industry particularly loathes the company, which drains it of money and potentially bullies and shuns publishers who do not comply with steep fees.

Amazon has previously unveiled new grocery-buying concepts, including Amazon Go, which basically replaces the traditional checkout experience with, well, shoplifting — you just walk in, take some things and leave. An app, meanwhile, takes note of your theft-like purchases and charges your account. Just hope it doesn't mistake a $5 jar of black beans for a $500 jar of caviar. Business Insider projects that this might be the next step for Whole Foods.

Amazon also opened a couple of take-out-style grocery stores for shoppers who order groceries online, thus further stripping the shopping experience of any human interaction. The next step? Total isolation, lack of empathy, ability to be placated by the overlord from the comfort of your walled-off living quarters. Just nuke the prepared meal on high for three minutes and enjoy while watching an Amazon Original Series. What's that one show called again? Oh yeah, Goliath.

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